Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Buy Locally

Last year I was travelling through the Highlands when I stopped in a little town that I hadn’t been in for many years. I had a little walk and came across a rather twee little gift shop with a notice in the window exhorting people to buy locally or lose the local facilities.

I had a good look at what was on offer wondering just how much of it was from the area or from Scotland or, indeed, even from the UK. The answer was virtually nothing obvious. It was almost all from low cost/income economies such as Bangladesh and China.

This got me thinking in the wider context. In Napier, New Zealand, I am used to fresh food in season. For the most part greengrocery comes from New Zealand and as locally as possible to the point of sale. Fortunately New Zealand has a climate such that many more fresh foods can be grown and for longer periods than in the UK. Of course many foods such as apples and potatoes can also be stored for eating all year round. I got used to eating things in season and still find it strange that in Stornoway I can buy anything at all all the year round: it is just sourced from wherever it is available and transported often half way around the world. The exception is water melons!

We want to be green. We want the people of Bangladesh and such countries to have better working conditions. We also want food (and everything else) to be available all the year round and not to pay a true market price for it (food is, I believe, often substantially subsidised by the EU i.e. by our taxes) or, in the case of clothes, a price which would allow companies from whom we buy things to insist on good working conditions for suppliers’ workers.

I’d love to support the ideals in the words at the top of this post. Will I ever have that opportunity? History would tend to suggest not.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Another Weather Window

It's 9 years since I had to worry about weather windows and getting on and off the Island. In all honesty I don't recall it being so problematic in the 30 years previously: the ferry seemed to sail in all but the most exceptional circumstances. One was more likely to be worried by snow in the Highlands.  I can recall back in the '70s driving up to Uig on Skye. On the stretch above Glengarry we were behind a snowplough up the through roads with cars strew left and right. We did it with two young children in a Renault 14 (and in those days there weren't even winter tyres) and, if I'm truly honest, with reckless disregard for our safety. We never ever got stuck at the side of the road although we have been stranded overnight on Skye, Tyndrum, Pitlochry and Moffat. Two occasions were caused by major power outages which meant that there was no petrol to be had because no pumps would work. Now I'm retired I can choose my moment to make the crossing and the journey and, so far this winter, I've managed to time it just right. 

I arrived back home to find that the internet was virtually unusable despite the efforts of the Liverpool Lads. Ho hum. It's a bit better this morning. After constant internet access whilst I was away (wifi is even available through most of Glasgow City Centre so one doesn't even need to rely on 3G) our poor access here is a bit of a sharp return to the reality of the Island.

Ah well hopefully I'll be back in Blogland properly for a while.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Our first son Andrew (who preferred to be called Andy) would have been 42 today.  He made it to 33.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Broadband Dreams

Before I came away it was a hectic few days with the BT Openreach engineer trying to sort out my broadband connection. The engineer was a great guy called Robbie from Liverpool who had a companion called Mick on the first day - for health and safety reasons given the gales on Monday - so there was plenty of good scouse banter whilst they beavered away. It’s well over forty years since I’ve been in company like that. They were up on temporary secondment with their vans because of the overwhelming telecommunications problems on the Island due to the lightning in December and the subsequent storms. By lunchtime of Tuesday I had a stable signal around the 1 Mbps.  If it stays stable when I get back I might now be able to watch YouTube and even iPlayer. It was fortunate that when he arrived my broadband connection was dropping every 5 minutes and the engineer could witness it for himself. I’m just hoping that when I get home it’s still as good.

So it was with interest that I noticed an article Tuesday's The Times entitled ‘Broadband speeds are getting lower as UK falls behind’. Apparently the average UK broadband speed is 10.7 Mbps which means that we’re 19th in the world and have fallen behind South Korea (average 25.3 Mbps). However we are, apparently, better off than France, Spain and Italy. What, of course, that doesn’t tell us is how widely available broadband is. In New Zealand unless you are located very close to a school many rural communities do not have broadband. Located as I was a stone’s throw from Napier I only had broadband because a local geek and entrepreneur decided to put micro-wave broadband in the area. NZ Telecom just said it wasn’t profitable. I cannot imagine that it’s profitable in the Western Isles but, as with cellphone coverage, the Government has invested millions in infrastructure.

For me and my neighbours however 10.7 Mbps is something we can only dream about. Just having a steady signal is our goal. When I arrived at Anna's it struck me just how fast webpages loaded.: 13Mbps. Sigh.